China’s Newest Computer Science Student Is a Computer

Fan Yiyang:

One of China’s elite universities has a new student that’s distinguishable from the rest of her peers — she’s human-like but powered by artificial intelligence.

Named Hua Zhibing, the virtual student is enrolled at Tsinghua University’s department of computer science and technology, where she will study under the tutelage of a dedicated professor, domestic media reported. Claimed to be the first AI-powered student to attend university, Hua started school on Tuesday and will focus on technology and data-related courses. 

Hua was jointly trained by the non-profit research institute Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence, along with technology companies Zhipu.AI and Xiaoice, though the motive behind its development was not immediately clear.

The Chinese government has an ambitious vision for the country’s AI sector, with plans to achieve a “major breakthrough” in the basic theory of artificial intelligence by 2025. Officials hope the technology will become a driving force in the country’s economic transformation and in upgrading its industrial capabilities.

In recent years, China has increasingly applied artificial intelligence in several sectors, including health and education, though the growing use of facial recognition technologies has raised privacy concerns. Meanwhile, companies have used AI to develop anything from an app to help save local dialects to self-driving cars, digital doppelgangers for news anchors, and even a chat bot to provide company to lonely men.